Crack Goes the House!

It’s been a weird couple of days here in the Midwest, with the coldest temperatures and wind chills in memory testing even the heartiest of souls. “Stay inside!” the meteorologists all implored. “Don’t go anywhere unless you absolutely must!” Well alrighty then, all good Minnesotans replied, as we essentially shut down our state for about 40 hours. Starting last week Tuesday afternoon, as the mercury fell and wind chills began hitting -30 to -40 degree below zero (yes, you’re reading that correctly),  businesses closed and sent employees home, posting notices on websites and Facebook pages that they would’t reopen until Thursday morning. Schoolchildren got another winter day off from school as parents who were considered essential workers and didn’t get to stay home from work scrambled to make arrangements for what to do with their kids. School bus drivers in rural areas breathed a sigh of relief that they were given one less white knuckle driving day with high winds and poor visibility.

If you’ve never experienced this bone biting cold, consider yourself lucky. Going out to get the garbage can is an adventure, necessitating multiple layers of fleece, wool, down and other protective gear. I take care of my neighbor’s dogs several days a week, letting them out midday, and I have to selfishly say getting texts from them saying they were working from home this week and there wasn’t a need for me to run over was a gift!

There is a really interesting phenomenon that happens with temperature drops, something my husband and I discovered a few years ago. It seems to only happen when the temperature get below about -20, so it’s infrequent, and if you’ve never had this happen before, it can scare the daylights, or in our case nightlights, out of you. The first time it happened, it was probably around midnight, and we’d just been asleep a short time when there was this loud “crack”! that startled us both out of sleep. Asking each other “did you hear that?” and “what the hell?” we got up, looked around and found nothing. A short while later it happend again…and again. About a half dozen times during the night, scaring us half to death each time. It was so loud, if you can imagine someone throwing a baseball at the side of your house, that’s about how it sounded. At the time we didn’t have any idea what it was.

Since then, I’ve learned that it’s something that happens when it gets very cold in winter.

From an article at CBS Local:

Joe Nelson owns Twin City Home Remodeling. He says our houses are made of all different materials — steel, concrete, vinyl – and all of these materials expands and contract as the temperatures change.

Huge temperature drop-offs like we’ve seen recently cause all those materials to contract.

“When they rub up against each other or misplace, they’re going to pop,” Nelson said.

Well, this week with the dropping temps it happened again. Fortunately it was during the day this time, but startling nonetheless.

I also read that one of the major fuel suppliers in the state had so much difficulty keeping up with the demand for natural gas that they had to ask customers all over the state to reduce consumption and keep their homes at 63 degrees this week. Folks, that’s NOT very warm. To remain comfortable at that temperature, you’ll need sweaters, blankets, warm socks and slippers and even then you might be chilled. But we Minnesotans are tough and hearty, and we do what we must. So we lower our thermostats, and bundle up a bit more. It’s a darn good thing we did, too, because the wind chill was as cold as I’ve seen it since I was much, much younger. Here’s how cold:

IMG_2904Note that the actual temperature was probably ONLY about -32 degrees. It just felt like -52 with the wind chills. Just. Brrrr. What’s really bizarre was that the next day was  24 degrees. Above zero. That’s a 50 degree swing in two days, and wow, it hit 36 on Sunday!

I also heard that the Governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin declared that he thinks we’re getting soft (the country, not necessarily Minnesota) because “school districts were being too “soft” on kids when they canceled classes due to chilly weather.” He later said he was being only “slightly facetious”. Well @govmattbevin, feel free to join us up here any time in January, in your bermuda shorts and flip flops, since you seem to think that it’s not so very cold. Personally, I think you spoke on a topic that you have little to no knowledge on. But I’m sure someone here could take you ice fishing (without an ice house!), teach you about the great outdoors in Minnesota in winter. We’ll see who’s soft. I’m guessing Governer Bevin lasts less than the time it takes a fish to bite.

 

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Selling on eBay, or How to Make Some Pocket Change

About a year ago, I was looking at some of the stuff we had laying around the house that didn’t sell after a garage sale. I was thinking to myself what a metric crap-ton of work holding a garage sale is, and surely there must be an easier way to get rid of stuff and still make money at it, when it dawned on me…

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I started doing a bit of research, and since then have sold quite a few things on the site. I didn’t find a lot of helpful info on eBay’s site, nor did I stumble on a blog like this one so much of what I’ve learned has been through trial and error. So I thought I’d put down some of my lessons learned, and hopefully a few folks will find them helpful.

  1. Do Your Homework on Pricing. When I say this, I absolutely DO NOT mean just find out what items like yours are listed for. You need to find items that are a) identical to yours (or as close to it as possible),  b) compare what condition they are in, c) check the box on the left side of the page that says SOLD and d) be aware if the seller offered free shipping or not. Why are all of these important? Well, first you need to compare like to like, and find out if the site is oversaturated with items like yours. If so, you might have a tougher time selling. And it really doesn’t matter if someone is asking $49.95 for something just like yours, when all the others are selling for $15.00, and they’re in better condition than the item you have, or if everyone else offered free shipping. These are things you’ll need to factor into setting your price point.
  2. Be Honest With Yourself (And Your Buyers) About the Condition of the Item. If everyone else is selling something that is in an original box, and yours isn’t, you won’t get the same price. The same goes for scratches, tears, chips, etc.
  3. Take Excellent Photographs. For the love of God, I can’t stress this enough. I’ve seen people put items up for sale with out of focus photos. Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 8.20.21 AMYou can see an example of one on the right that I copied from eBay (with all apologies to the photo owner). What’s that supposed to show me? The background competes with the item, so that’s the first problem, and the camera focused on the background so the watch is blurred. If I’m going to ask a complete and total stranger to put their faith in me, and buy something they can only see in photos, the least I can do is take decent ones for them to see what they are getting. What works best for me, is that I set up a small area in my house when I’m getting things ready for sale, and depending on what they are, or how much detail is needed, I might even set up some studio type lighting or put a macro lens and ring flash on my camera so that I can take really good close ups. Screen Shot 2018-12-21 at 8.26.26 AM                             Here is one of mine:  Notice how you can see all the detail on the back of the watch, including that there are minimal scractches?  I realize not everyone has the capabilities for the same set up I do, but everyone should be able to find a way to take a photo that is sharp and clear. Also, remember to take pictures from different perspectives: front and back, sides, underside, etc. Show brand names, model numbers, anything that shows specifics about your item.
  4. Give Details in the Description. Tell folks what you’re selling – provide sizes, measurements, colors, even year it was made. I bought an inexpensive digital calipers from Harbor Freight, and have used that to measure things like case depth and lug width on watches.  Think about what makes your item different or stand out, and include that in the listing.
  5. Consider Shipping Options. Are you offering free shipping? If so, that means you’re paying the postage for the item, which means depending on which option you select for shipping for them could be costly. I knew I wasn’t going to do this full time, and was only going to sell a little bit, so free shipping wasn’t a good option for me. I elected to have my buyers pay, but I offer them 2 options. The first is USPS Parcel Select, which is the cheapest, and the second is UPS Ground. In order to do this, however, you need to have your item pre-packaged and weighed BEFORE you list it for sale. I’m lucky in that my husband has access to boxes in a wide variety of sizes that would be otherwise tossed out, so we recycle them for shipping. He also has access to bubble wrap that would be recycled as well. Both of those have allowed us to not have to purchase shipping containers. If you do, you either need to know that cuts into what you make on your sales, or you’ll have to estimate those costs and add to the sale of your item as a fee. NOTE: When I weigh my items, I just use a kitchen/food scale. I enter the weight into the eBay listing tool as a range, so if something weighs 2 lb 4 oz, I enter it as 2-3 lb. You also need to know the dimensions of your box as you’ll have to put that in as well. If you don’t, the system puts in a default and if your item is larger, then you’ll eat the cost when you get to the post office.
  6. Auction vs Buy It Now. It depends. I go back and forth, and it just depends on what other items like mine have been when they sold. If most were Buy It Now, then I list mine like that. If you decide to do Auction, you have several options for the length of time to leave your auction open. If you set up items as Buy It Now, and you notice they aren’t selling, you can always drop the price.
  7. Offering Returns. I generally don’t for a couple of reasons. First, I want the darn thing out of my house and don’t want it back. Second, I know that what I’ve sold will work as I have stated it will, and I know that I pack things to not break during shipping. That being said, there have been a few times I have offered it, and when I do I add a disclaimer that says “If you wish to return an item, please reach out to me directly first and let me know the reason for the return. All items must be returned in the same condition in which they were shipped out in order to receive a refund. Return shipping to be paid by buyer.” 
  8. Don’t Wait to Ship. I try to ship orders out within 24 hours of purchase, and have a 100% satisfaction rating from my buyers. They trusted me enough to buy from me and send me money, the least I can do is to ship out their purchase timely.
  9. Watch Your Messages. If you’re selling lots of things you’ll find that the 30 free listings that eBay allows you each month can go quickly, however they will periodically send out a time limited offer with additional free listings. If you don’t respond to the email fast enough to claim the offer, it’s gone. So far I haven’t figured out how to auto forward messages from my eBay inbox to my regular email provider, so I need to just log into eBay and look there.
  10. eBay vs Goodwill. Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The challenge with eBay is figuring out when to stop relisting items that didn’t sell, and just give it to Goodwill (or some other appropriate charitable organization.) Just because it didn’t sell the first time, doesn’t mean it won’t. I just sold something after about the 4th or 5th relist…yes, I had to drop the price a few times on it, but it did finally sell. On the other hand, I have stoneware dishes that aren’t selling after 5 relists. It’s probably time to quit relisting those, take them to Goodwill and get the tax deduction instead.
  11. Documentation. I didn’t make a spreadsheet initially, and discovered that once the listing is done after a short period of time you can’t go back and find it if you wanted to copy the info you had in it, like a really clever description. So now I have everything on a spreadsheet including descriptions, and what the size and weight of the boxes are as I keep my items stored in a crawl space until they sell. It’s a lot easier to reference the spreadsheet to relist items than it is to crawl around in the crawl space. I also have a regular document that includes statements like the return items disclaimer that I can copy and paste into listings, such as a statement to link listings with similar items.

A couple of final thoughts…most of us aren’t going to get rich selling things on eBay. If you go into this thinking you will, you’ll get frustrated very quickly. What you will get is a little pocket change, and a cleaner house as you get rid of that stuff that’s been hanging around forever, for God knows what reason. Have fun with it, but stay realistic.

Things Mom Never Told You, Vol VI.

Reusing Razor Blades…

Have you ever used a single edged razor blade around the house for projects? I do all the time, from scraping my glass top stove to scraping paint off woodwork, and in the past I’ve used a razor until it seems dull, then tucked it into the plastic container it came in, on the “dispose” side until it was full and then tossed it. But I got to thinking, “isn’t that a waste? Can’t I sharpen them?” Guess what, it turns out you can! IMG_2542Get a blade sharpening kit, or if you already have a whetstone then get honing oil. You can see in the photo to the left, my whetstone with oil on it after I had sharpened a few blades along with my razor blade collection. (I managed to pull them back out of the plastic container with a tweezers. Carefully.)

After putting some oil on the stone I took the blade, and swirled it on the stone in the oil a bit, then held the blade at about a 20-30 degree angle, and pulled it backwards against the stone.IMG_2543 In the photo to the right, that would be pulling the blade from right to left. I did that on each side about 6-8 times, then wiped off the oil and  tested it by pulling it against the edge of a piece of paper. After all were sharpened, I put them back in the storage container, and labeled it so I knew they were sharpened but not new.  Now I’m all set with 14 freshly sharpened blades, and all it took was a kit we already had, and maybe 30 minutes to do all of them. And if you’re really in a rush, you can just pull them against some sandpaper. I used some 100 grit, that worked pretty well too.

Sparkling Porcelain…

Ever wondered how to get stains out of the toilet bowl, especially those under the rim? Pumice stones are apparently an insider trick of the housecleaning trade, according to the folks at Real Simple Magazine, who compiled a great list of 12 Things Only Professional Cleaners Know.  I’ve been using these for a while now, and they really do get the nasty stains out of the bowl, making it sparkling white again. Just make sure you get the stone wet first, or you can scratch the bowl. The article has some other really helpful tricks, well worth a read.

Winter Over Plants…

If you’re like me, you have plants that move from outside to inside over the winter, and of course that means a big adjustment for those poor plants in terms of available sunlight. Even if you have plants that stay inside year round, as we move through the months into winter, there is less available sunlight, and plants can get starved for sun (and really, who can’t, for the love of Pete, which is a different issue that can be solved with a plane ticket to Key West, but I digress). After a few weeks, plants can start to look pretty pathetic. An easy solution is to get grow lights for them, and the ones that are out now are so much better than the old ones that we used to use. Back in the day we used to get cool and warm fluorescent lights, which would cover the spectrum of light wavelengths needed to best simulate sunlight. Then they came up with a bulb that was in the shape of a floodlamp that was specifically for plants and had the right spectrum in one bulb. You can still get the floodlamp bulb in an LED style, which is really great and saves money, but even better you can now get one in a regular light bulb shape, which, if you’re geeky like me is known as an E26. There are a number of different brands, Feit is the one I have, which is what I’ve shown here with the green base.

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You can see it looks like a regular light bulb, which is nice if you have some sort of directional light like one that clamps on, that you can put it into and aim it at the plant.

 

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I took a picture of the bulb from the top (not quite centered, hence it looks slightly skewed) so you can see how they get the spectrum of both cool and warm light covered. It’s amazing what a difference it makes on my plants, and I can even keep my hibiscus blooming most of the winter with this. Add in a timer, and you’re good to go!

 

My promise: I will never share something with you that I haven’t personally tried. I won’t tell you it works if I can’t prove it. Where possible I will share photos or a video. If something is an epic fail, well I’ll tell you that too as I think that is just as valuable, even if I end up looking ridiculous doing it.

Planning for Financial Emergencies

Periodically I see articles on various news sites that have headlines with themes about saving money, and more specifically what you need to do to be prepared for the unexpected, such as the loss of your job. Most say things along similar lines: Have at least 6 months worth of salary saved up to cover expenses, and make sure you estimate medical costs, unexpected car repairs, and other things of that nature. If  you use any sort of bill paying software, such as Quicken, a tool like that can really help to make it easy to run a report quickly and simplify some of the estimating.

I suspect a lot of people don’t even think about something that I think is critically important, and none of the articles that I’ve read have really addressed it either. How many of you know what your health insurance costs each month? I’m not talking about how much is taken out of your paycheck, I’m talking about adding that to what your employer subsidizes to get the TOTAL cost, or what you would pay if you had to get your insurance through COBRA. In case you’ve never heard that term before, COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which was passed into law in 1986. According to information on the US Department of Labor website it “contains provisions giving certain former employees, retirees, spouses former spouses, and dependent children the right to temporary continuation of health coverage at group rates”. So basically if you got health insurance through your employer and lose your job, under certain conditions you can continue to get that insurance at those group rates. However, and here’s the kicker – your former employer will no longer subsidize or pay a portion of that insurance for you. Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 7.25.34 AMYou’ll need to pay all of it yourself, and if you thought you were lucky because your former employer didn’t charge you a lot for health insurance when you were working , well, you might want to be sitting down when you get that information, because that same non-subsidized health insurance is really expensive!

How expensive, you ask? At my former employer, coverage for my husband and I for health, supplemental life and dental went from $320/month to $1170/month. Think about  the implications of that for a moment…so now not only do you NOT have an income, but you get to shell out an extra $1000 or more a month for insurance. For that same high-deductible plan you had before. And if you were unlucky enough to get laid off at the end of the year, or don’t find a job right away and are still unemployed after the start of the next calendar year rolls around, your deductibles and out-of-pocket costs reset, which means that you get to start all over again meeting those too. So any money you had in that lovely HSA account can be used for the insurance or medical bills, but trust me, it will go very quickly.

If you’re confused on the difference between deductible and out-of-pocket, you’re not alone! I’ll try to explain it here, and add in a good website resource as well. Your deductible is the amount you first need to pay before your insurer will start to help you with what you owe toward bills. After that, the insurer will pay part, and you’ll pay part, until you hit your out-of-pocket maximum, at which point the insurer pays all of it. Where it can get confusing is adding in family members. If you have just two people insured, you can have one meet both the deductible and their out of pocket maximum, but the other person is still paying the full amount for everything because they haven’t yet met THEIR deductible.  If you have more than two people by adding in children, then those deductibles still need to be met but at least the out-of-pocket maximums are cumulative toward the family out-of-pocket maximum. Yikes! I know that our insurer has a really nice graphic on the website showing where we were at all times with meeting deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums, and I would expect most others do as well. MoneyUnder30 has a good page on their website that can help with understanding those and other health insurance terms.

So yes, think about your monthly expenses, but educate yourself too on what your insurance will cost you if you’re not working. It’s eye-opening, and probably far more expensive than you think. Even routine annual checkups can add up when you start adding in lab tests and x-rays, since most visits are “cafeteria” type, meaning each thing done gets a charge. For those with high deductible plans, here are some AVERAGE costs that will wipe out small to medium savings:

Office visits for physicals…$180-240

Adult office visit for illness…$130-180

Child office visit for illness $115-160

Adult ER visit (visit only, doesn’t include labs, x-rays, etc) $580-700

Child ER visit (visit only, doesn’t include labs, x-rays, etc)  $510-635

Colonoscopies…$900

Mammograms…$120

Shingles vaccinations…$250

Chest xray…$370

Blood count tests…$5-15

Flu shot…$40

As you can see, start adding in labs, x-rays, etc, and it doesn’t take much before things add up. Add in a couple of sick kids, or sports injuries and physical therapy and the money is gone.

Costs may vary by region of the country, insurer, and contracts negotiated, among other things.  The prices listed above came from a couple of sources, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and CostHelper.com. You can probably find cost estimators at your insurer as well.

So besides planning for the rent or mortgage, the car payment, gas, utilities, food, clothes, the pets, school events, and all that other stuff, don’t forget to educate yourself about the true costs of ALL of your healthcare costs.

For more information on COBRA, go to the Department of Labor website.

PS, preventing illness is still a great idea and saves money! It’s flu season, and flu shots are cheap and readily available. Some county health departments will do them for free, I’m seeing Costco/CVS offering for around $20, Walgreens and Target for $40. If  insurance covers medication, your flu shot might be covered too. Don’t forget to get yours!

 

Spoooook-takular Delights

My husband is rather clever and creative, and when it comes to Halloween has a little bit of a kid left in him. Last year he started building a nifty little decoration, and this year he was able to get it completed.  I can’t wait until it’s dark tonight, and the kiddos start coming around and see this:

 

Next year I may try to paint a backdrop of a ship’s deck for it too, and add one of those fog machines. Maybe some old spooky music too!

Of course we also have a talking pirate skeleton with a parrot on it’s shoulder, one that has a sensor that make it talk when someone walks by. It scares the devil out of the little ones, and I know at least one kid will leave our front step crying tonight. Then they’ll just be getting over that trauma, and go to the next door neighbor’s where a giant spider will leap out at them. Maybe we ought to be handing out kleenex and diapers with the candy. Between 75 and 85 kids will be here soon, and at least one will bawl.

Isn’t Halloween great?

Expectations vs. Reality

While my husband was on a camping trip this summer with some guys, I decided I would make good use of the time and paint another room in our house. We moved in here 6 years ago, and hadn’t finished repainting all the rooms yet, so it was (way) past time to tackle another room. This year I started in the master bedroom, which was painted in 2 shades of blue…medium dusty blue and dark dusty blue, 2 walls opposite each other were one color, and the other 2 walls the other color. Ugh.fullsizeoutput_9b7d

So I started my prep work, patching holes, and I felt like I went through about a half gallon of spackling compound covering up all the dings and dents from the prior owners, not to mention the screw pops in the sheet rock as well as a couple of bad spots left where we took a mounting bracket for a TV off the wall. The TV bracket had adhered to the paint which was really unexpected, given that the paint was long cured by the time we moved in and put up that bracket. So when we took it off it started giving us some trouble then suddenly came off with a big r-r-r-i-i-p-p and we just stood there with that look of “oh, crap” on our faces. I knew right then I was in for hours of patching and sanding, and I wasn’t disappointed. I can’t tell you how many times I redid that spot before I was satisfied.

Now unless you’re a professional painter, I’m going to say that you probably can’t do a good job of painting a room without one really essential thing: painter’s tape. Some folks know it as “blue painter’s tape” and others as “frog tape” but it all does the same thing: when applied correctly (or at all) it will keep the woodwork from getting paint on it. By now you can probably guess where I’m going, but honestly it was WAY worse than you can imagine. Because after the patching is done, normally you think “yea! It’s time to prep and tape the woodwork”, right? Nope, not in this house, or at least, not in the normal, traditional sense. You see, the prior owners didn’t believe in painter’s tape, or they just waved it over toward the wood and prayed it landed in the right spot. That room had been painted at least 3 times in 10 years and not once had they used painter’s tape. I know this because there were 3 different colors of paint layers on the edges of the windows, doorways and baseboards and in varying amounts. Sometimes just a tiny brush mark, but in one place two layers extended for a 2-foot run! And if that wasn’t bad enough, they roller painted over outlets and the cold air return as well – both the wall plate AND the actual outlet! I mean come on, how hard is it to remove a wall plate and slap tape on an outlet?

So there I knelt, squatted, stood and climbed up and down a ladder for 2 days, with a razor blade, scraping wood. I tried everything I could think of to help loosen the paint but in the end it just seemed simplest to do old-fashioned scraping and try not to ruin the woodwork. Finally, it was as good as I could get it, and then out came the Frog Tape. Everywhere, there was green tape. Take that, prior homeowner! About the only place I didn’t tape was along the ceiling edge but I’ve been taught how to cut in the paint along an edge, and was planning to repaint the ceiling when I was done with the walls anyway, for two reasons. One, it had never been done in the 17 years since the house was built and two, guess where else they got medium and dark blue paint? (But I DID tape off the walls when I did the ceiling. I’m good, but not perfect!)

Finally, it was time to paint, and the walls and ceiling look fantastic. You don’t realize how dingy your ceilings are until you paint them bright white. (Here’s a helpful tip: Glidden makes a wonderful ceiling paint that goes on pink, but dries white so that you can see where you’ve painted, as that can be difficult with white on white ceilings. I love that stuff!) I also love my 5 brand spankin’ new outlets, which at just over $2 each for the outlet and wall plate combined seemed money well spent so that I didn’t have to spend time scraping paint off the old ones, and my new cold air return. (Follow up note: I later found a multipack of outlets at our local big box retailer, 10 for under $4, plus 10 wall plates for under $2!)

IMG_2544I don’t get it…what the heck is so hard about taking 20 minutes to put some painter’s tape around woodwork? Are you really that flippin’ lazy? I guess the answer is “yes” because our entire house is like that, the one exception being our upstairs hallway, and that’s only because it’s never been painted and is still only primed. (I’m actually kind of excited to paint that area next.) I used to think that people would take a bit more care of their homes. I mean good grief; you pay this much money for something, why wouldn’t you fix it up right? But the reality is that people don’t take care of things, don’t do even basic maintenance, like changing furnace filters, cleaning lint out of the dryer trap or stop their kids from writing on closet walls. I guess I need to lower my expectations, because clearly my reality doesn’t match theirs. But at least the room looks wonderful, and the ceilings have only white ceiling paint on them now. Now on to the hallway and then the living room/dining room/kitchen, which is really a great room. THAT’s going to be a project and then some!

The Child in Me

It’s summer in Minnesota, or as we like to call it, the season of construction, mosquitos and humidity. This year I’m adding “thunderstorms” to that list, as it seems we’ve had more than the usual number of them for some reason. A number of our rivers had flood warnings associated with them, and as I am typing this I looked at the radar, and storms are setting up already today and it’s only 7:00 in the morning. Of course all the rain has provided a rich source of breeding grounds for even more mosquitos. That in turn, means more visits from the DNR as they fly overhead with the helicopter loaded with mosquito bomb pellets. I swear when they come over the house and I feel the cavitation from the rotors, it’s all I can do not to yell, “hit the deck!” and fall to the floor.

I am fortunate enough to be able to be a surrogate mom for my next door neighbor’s dogs, at least for the time being, and let them out during the day, and the other day when I went over there, it was one of those lovely rainy days out. So I put on a rain jacket and headed out, and on my way back I thought, “I’m going to take a quick walk. What’s the worst thing that will happen?  I have on sandals that can get wet, so no problem there. My Capri jeans will get wet. So what? I won’t melt.” So off I went.

I’d forgotten how much fun it was to take a walk in a warm rain. I loved the sound of the raindrops on my hood, on the leaves on the trees. It was so unbelievably peaceful and calming. After I’d been walking a bit, I noticed that I’d started stepping less and shuffling my feet more (sorry Dad, I know you hated it when I did that and I can still hear you say “pick up your feet”!). It didn’t take long before I was kicking up small water puddles, and from there I worked my way up to bigger ones. It got more and more fun, and soon I was soaked above my knees.

When was the last time you went puddle stomping?  There is a reason toddlers and children do it, there really is something truly freeing about it.

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Many thanks to my great neighbor who allowed me to take this photo, and to her awesome daughter for playing along!

I almost put my hood down and tipped my head back letting the rain run on my face – cue the dramatic music here – as I stretched out my arms and twirled in a circle – but I figured if I did that, the next thing I’d see was the men in white coats with a straightjacket. As Robert Fulgham said in “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”, you can’t explain everything you do to everybody, you know. So I did the big Hollywood movie twirl in my mind but continued the puddle stomping throughout my walk, until my rubber sandals were so wet they squeaked and I had wrinkly toes.

If you have the chance to go puddle stomping, unleash your inner child and go for it. It’s a lot of fun, and you’ll feel great afterwards. Your stress levels will drop and you’ll find your shoulders aren’t up by your earlobes anymore, and your mind will be clearer. That’s all good, no matter what age you are.

Who Really Uses Customer Wisdom?

After I woke up one recent morning, I looked out on the foggy backyard just waiting for enough warmth of sun to make it all go away. I had my first cup of coffee, and got out a new box of cereal, then opened the bag and r-r-rip! Right down the side about halfway. Grrr. Has anyone else ever done that? So that got me to thinking…with all of the changes that I see in packaging these days, and the addition of “zip closures” to so many things – chips, rice, frozen foods, pita bread, shredded cheese, the list can go on and on – why haven’t major cereal manufacturers figured this one out yet? I mean seriously? Oh some have, the generic, bagged cereals, but not the boxed ones. Not everyone is a family of 5 and going through a box of cereal a day, and even if they were a family of 5, they probably would have a variety of cereals anyhow! I’m guessing that people probably do what we do, which is to add a bag clip to the package, unless you have a day like today and then you have to empty the contents into a zip lock bag, or, they just transfer everything into a plastic container with a pour top and dispense from that. When my family had a cabin we had to do that, otherwise dry cereal became stale very quickly from the humidity.  So Quaker Oats, General Mills, Kellogg and others, I’m talking to you! Start putting cereal in resealable bags in your boxed cereals. Think of the great marketing you can do with that!! Not everyone is a big family, but I think everyone wants value for their dollar and HATES to waste food. On the other hand, when we have to throw out stale cereal it means we have to buy more than we planned for, so profits go up. Hmmm, no wonder why they don’t use the resealable bags…

Here’s another rant for you. I love coffee, and buy beans to grind for brewing. We usually buy the large bag of Dunkin’ Donuts because it tastes good and is a good price and I don’t mind the free plug I’m giving them. (“Hey Dunkin’, yoo-hoo!”) BUT…they do have one thing I have a problem with, and I actually sent them an email about it maybe a year ago. They sent me a generic “thank you for your concern” and some coupons in response, but to date I’ve never seen a fix. Here’s the deal. Take a look at the pictures below:

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Note that the bag comes with a nice twist tie attached for you to use to reseal the bag after you open it. Handy, right? Except…they attach the twist tie just below the spot on the bag where it’s sealed shut, and it’s not like you can open the seal by separating it with your hands. Nope, you need to cut the bag open with a scissors, so you have to cut off the top part of the bag, below the seal, and you end up cutting off the twist tie. You then have to go back, pull the tie OFF the part you just cut off to be able to use it. My suggestion to them was to glue it lower on the bag so you could cut between the twist tie and the seal, and then the tie would stay attached to the bag, letting you just roll down the top (like a competitor does) and you can’t loose it. Simple! The current way is a pain, especially at 5:30 in the morning, trying to open a new bag while I’m still half asleep.

Quite a few years ago, when we had a home on a wooded lot, we treated ourselves to a birdfeeder called a “Yankee Flipper”. It’s a squirrel-proof feeder, and if you’ve never heard of it, go to YouTube and look it up, there are some hilarious videos out there. When we moved to our new house we didn’t use it for a while, because we didn’t have squirrels. Now we do so I dug it out but the battery no longer holds a charge. It’s a nickel cadmium battery, and as you probably know over time if you don’t use them, they won’t charge. I contacted the company, and yes, you can buy a new “power stick”, which is the battery and motor unit…for $90! (A new feeder is $165 now).  But…and here is the big problem I have. When I asked them if the batteries are nickel cadmium, or if they have upgraded to nickel metal hydride or lithium, they told me they are still NiCad. WHAT? You want me to pay $90 for something that I know will go bad again, so I can pay that much for it one more time? Um, how about no? So my husband and I did what the little power stick said not to. “Do Not Open This…Your Warranty Will Be Void If You Do”. Well it was out of warranty years ago. So we opened it, figured out what kind of NiCad batteries they were, did some internet sleuthing, and ordered them along with some wire glue so they could be connected the same way the originals were. Total costs with shipping? $22.67.

Kudos to a company too, since I can’t complain ALL the time. I absolutely LOVE the new top on the Advil for Arthritis bottles. It’s a bit larger and has a scalloped edge, making it easier to grasp if you have arthritis, which I’m starting to feel in my hands. I keep one in each level of my house and just refill from a larger bottle.

So apparently one company did listen to their customers, but will others? Is sure seems that if it helps customers but hurts their bottom line, we’ll never see that change, so we can probably kiss the sealable cereal bag goodbye. I still have hope for Dunkin’ Donuts though.  Any of you have suggestions for manufacturers, changes you’d like to see?

From the Files of…

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 8.56.56 AMIt’s time for another edition of “From the Files of…”, yes, those crazy stories I find in the news that I just can’t make up. I swear. At least this time I’ll start out with a cute one.  I have to admit; I read it because the title of the story made me go “huh?” It read “Cops were ‘lit’ and ‘turnt up’ at students’ prom, department says “. Now in my day, ‘lit’ meant either you’d been drinking, or were taking drugs, and I while I read “turnt”, my mind saw “tuned”, probably going back to the part about being lit up! This story is not about that, however and is a wonderful and fun little read.

Spell check, people. Seriously, why do professional writers fail this one so often? From a Politico article on May 30, 2018:

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An “ustice Department”. Huh. That might explain much of what’s wrong in Washington. Update: After two tweets to the author and to Politico and Politico Mag, NO CORRECTIONS have been done as of July 4, 2018. 

And CNN on June 24, 2018

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Here we lost the entire end of a sentence, and I guess this Johnson is describing, what, new wedding vows called “the do”? Update: As of July 4, this was corrected. Kudos to author Eli Watkins!

I do try to avoid clickbait articles, but every once in a while I just have to go to the ones on Trendchaser. If you haven’t, they’re often titled things like “the funniest things kids said this week” or “the best notes left on badly parked cars”. In keeping with our theme, from “Teachers Who Are Out to Get Their Students” (I included the link, they’re hilarious!)

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Sadly, I also just saw a story about Tina Turner’s son committing suicide, at People.com and while the article may have been spell checked, it certainly wasn’t proofread. Someone might be a tool, but things take a toll. Yikes.

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We’ll see how long it takes the writer to correct that biggie. Update: less than 24 hours after I tweeted to her that “spell check is NEVER replaced by proofreading.” Kudos to Alexia Fernandez for actually following up!

To wrap it all up, back to fun and lighthearted. Because it’s important to never take ourselves too seriously, I love it when a big corporation adopts that mindset as well. Take a look at the most recent tweet from Airbus, about the new transport plane that will go into service in 2019, called the Beluga XL. I love the paint job, and the accompanying text is awfully punny as well!

Happy Independence Day, celebrate safely! If you’re from slightly north, I offer my sincere apologies to Canada on behalf of the US, and Happy Canada Day!

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Things Mom Never Told You, Vol V

How to Keep Patio/Deck Plants Looking Fantastic All Summer…

Are you like me in that you absolutely LOVE having plants outside on your deck or patio in the summer time, but hate the chore of having to water them every day? My patio is my oasis from life, I have Adirondak chairs and side tables that are painted cheerful colors, and everything is done to give me a tropical, “down island” feel for those few months out of the year we have summer. Having lush, well-watered plants for me is a must, and in the beginning of the summer it’s fun, but honestly by August, it’s a chore. IMG_3638 (1).jpg

The solution was to install a drip irrigation system, which sounds difficult, but really isn’t at all. I purchased my initial setup from Proven Winners, although there are others out there including the DIG system I found at Home Depot, which is what I’ve supplemented with. Here is a link to a video about the Proven Winners system, and you can purchase directly from them as well.  The customer service staff at Proven Winners are incredibly helpful and have a really fast response time. I’ve had emails answered within a day and sometimes the same day. The DIG website has a wealth of information as well, take a look at it too.

The way the system works, is that you have a coupler consisting of a backflow valve and adapter, that reduces the water pressure from your system down, and then the drip tubing connects to that. You then run the drip tubing around to where you want for your plants. You cut the tubing and insert a coupler to branch off tubing to extend it. They have “T” shaped couplers if you want to just have a single extension off, and “X” shaped if you want to have 2 extensions plus continuing your run. There are also different drip heads as well, depending on your needs. You can bury the tubing in dirt or under rock to hide it, run it behind objects, etc.

For the past several years I’ve put a brass “Y” splitter on our outdoor spigot, which allows us to have our hose still connected and then the drip irrigation on the other side of the “Y”. On that side I connect an automatic watering timer. For our patio I use a 2-zone timer, so I can run two separate sets of tubing. One set goes one direction, to the flowers, and the other set goes the other way, to the tomatoes and a few other flowers. That allows me to set two separate sets of times and frequencies. This year I also ran tubing through PVC pipe that I buried in the grass between the landscaped area off the patio, and out to a landscaped area further into the yard where I have a few potted plants. Then I know they get watered on the days our sprinkler doesn’t run. Depending on how many plants my patio ends up having, I may end up getting a 4 zone timer, as I’m not sure how many times I can branch off the tubing before I lose water pressure.

Pros and Cons of The Two I’ve Used

Pros: What I like about Proven Winners’ system is that the tubing is softer and more flexible than the DIG tubing I found at Home Depot. That allows me to disconnect it from the connectors and watering ends each year so I can change up the configuration every year. Another thing that I really like about PW, and I mentioned this above, is their customer service. I had a small problem this year with a part, and emailed them one evening about it, telling them what the issue was, and how I had tried to troubleshoot it, asking what else I could try. A few hours later (at 11 pm!) I had a response, which was basically “sounds like you have a broken part, I checked your order history and will send you a new one tomorrow at no cost.” Am I going to keep going back to them? You bet I am!

A couple of nice things about DIG is that it’s readily available from Home Depot, and they do have a bigger variety of drip heads available. So if I’m in the middle of set up and run out, or if I find that some of mine are no longer working I can just run up there and get new ones. I don’t have to order them online and wait, and is a bit more cost effective.

Cons: The tubing from Proven Winners so far only comes in white and tan, while the tubing from DIG comes in brown and black. IMG_1341Our patio is stained a terra cotta color, so both white and tan tubing show up VERY well, as you can see. I did talk to the nice folks at Proven Winners and even sent them this picture of our patio with white tubing showing, letting them know that not everyone has white concrete patios and could they perhaps get brown tubing? They said they would mention it to their vendor, but so far their website still has only the white and tan.

Another con, and this is a biggie for me, is that the tubing from DIG is very rigid and inflexible, and much more difficult to remove it from the connectors. So if I want to change configuration I have to boil water, and put the connection in the water for several seconds to make the tubing very pliable and I can then pull it off. If it starts to cool down, it won’t come off.  At that point I have to go back in the house and reheat the water, or cut the tubing off the connector and then take a utility knife and cut away the small amount of tubing that is still on the connector to start over. I’m either wasting additional time or money. I sometimes have to use warm water to soften the connections from Proven Winners to get the tubing off, but the water can cool down a lot more before I have to reheat it, so I have a lot more working time with it first, and I find I don’t always have to do that. Sometimes I can just pull connections apart. However, do that too often and the Proven Winners tubing will stretch out at the connection, leaving you with a leak.

Overall, it’s a toss up. I like Proven Winners tubing better, but DIG has more watering end options and I really like that, plus their brochure is really informative. I do wish I had known about a drip irrigation system years ago, and if you’ve never tried one before, give it a shot. They really are easy to set up, and you’ll wonder how the heck you lived without one this long. Let me know if you have questions about setting one up, or your success using one.

My promise: I will never share something with you that I haven’t personally tried. I won’t tell you it works if I can’t prove it. Where possible I will share photos or a video. If something is an epic fail, well I’ll tell you that too as I think that is just as valuable, even if I end up looking ridiculous doing it.